By Dimitris Minarentzis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
The stats speak for themselves: Keith Langford is the 27th best scorer in the EuroLeague, though he has much fewer games compared to the others above him, whom he will have the chance to exceed by returning to the competition.
One can see his value in scoring averages, where he’s 4th right now with 17.14 points, the first being Alphonso Ford, the second Panagiotis Liadelis and the third Arvydas Macijauskas!
Langford, though, has played many more games (118) than these players, including Kaspars Kambala and Maurice Evans who round off the top 6, which makes his average even more remarkable since it would have dropped (or will drop) by competing in twice as many games and counting.
He went to the famous University of Kansas and played in two Final Fours!
Keith Langford is a graduate of the famous University of Kansas, where he played between 2001-2005 and, in fact, he reached a final and a Final Four in the NCAA, in 2003 and 2002 respectively, as a key member of the rotation.
In 2003 final, Kansas lost 91-88 to Carmelo Anthony’s Syracuse, with Langford being his team’s top scorer – together with Nick Collison – with 19 points. His talent in scoring was already apparent then but it wasn’t enough against “Melo” and also Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick.
In the previous year, the Jayhawks had been knocked out in the semifinal by Drew Nicholas and Lonny Baxter’s Maryland team, who won the title and some years later also played in the colors of Panathinaikos (with Nicholas excelling, of course). Then, Langford came off the bench in his second college year, which he completed with an average of 13.3 points – and 15.9 in his best season in college – but it wasn’t enough for him to be selected in the 2005 draft. If you take a look at that draft (link), you’ll see that the protagonist of this feature would have fitted in somewhere.
Getting started in the D-League and then “forza Italia!”
The next choice he made was to play in the D-League so that he could get a contract in the NBA, which he did in the 2007-08 season with the Spurs, but only for two games. Meanwhile, he headed to Europe and Italy, where he started to do great things with Vanoli, Biella and Virtus between the country’s A2 and A1 divisions.
His name began to be known and Khimki was the first team to put him on the EuroLeague map in the 2009-10 season. He played there for two years between 2009-2011 with 15.5 points to his credit in the first season and 18.7 in the second. The Russian team didn’t go very far, they didn’t play many games (only 10) and so his excellent average couldn’t count toward the top scorer title. Of course, he did that later…
The EuroLeague had now opened its doors wide for him. In the following season, he played in Maccabi but it was his worst season in terms of scoring with just 11.4 points. But this never happened again. In any case, the Israeli team got one win away from Istanbul and it was Panathinaikos who deprived them of a shot at the title. Langford, though, was better in the playoffs (13.4) than he was in the regular season, but that wasn’t enough.
Armani Milan offered him a two-year contract – the most expensive up to that point – from 2012 to 2014, with their eyes on the city’s 2014 Final Four. Then, he received 2.5 million euros for two years!
The first season he scored 17.0 points but Olimpia was knocked out in the first round, and then came the 2013-14 season when the entire city of Milan lived and breathed the Final Four.
Armani reached the Top 8, with Langford being the big protagonist (17.6 points), the top scorer in the EuroLeague with the Alphonso Ford trophy in his pocket. The left-handed guard wanted to return to a Final Four after his successful college years, but his former team got in the way. Even though Olimpia had a home court advantage, Maccabi got the break in the first game in Milan, with a 101-99 score in overtime.
In that game, Langford missed the opportunity to get the win for his team, after which the series may have been different. He won two free throws almost at the expiration. He made the first one and tied the game (even though Armani had started the fourth quarter by being ahead 70-58), but missed the second to his own disappointment but also everyone else’s in the arena.
What followed is well known. Maccabi qualified in 3-1 wins and out of nowhere returned to Milan and won the 2014 EuroLeague with another “southpaw,” Tyrese Rice, being the protagonist.
Unstoppable in Unics
Unics Kazan was the next stop in his career, returning to Russia. He played there for three years and especially his last one there – 2016-17 – was dazzlingly good. He finished with 21.75 points – once again the EuroLeague’s top scorer after 2014 – and, with a total of 609 points, he became the first player in the history of the competition to exceed the 600-point barrier!
A record that Alexey Shved surpassed last season with 740 points and an average of 21.76, which means that the Russian got a better combination than his opponent when he played in CSKA Moscow.
Langford carried Unics almost on his own (you can watch videos from that season here [link]) but their roster was not strong enough to go very far, getting just 8 wins in the first “marathon” of the EuroLeague in its current format with 30 games in the regular season.
But he was excellent. He got a career high in points with 36 – against CSKA, in fact – but also in assists, with 9 against Anadolu Efes. He scored double digits in all 28 games he played then with Unics, his worst performance being the 11 points he scored against Fenerbahce in the only game he didn’t get a single two-pointer.
Last season, he played in China with the Shenzhen Leopards, since the EuroLeague couldn’t cover his financial needs. He didn’t stay for the whole season, though, and then he passed by Israel again at Maccabi Rishon Lezion, who finished last. Langford, however, still managed to score 19.1 points in the 12 games he played…
His chance to reach a Final Four
Langford will be 35 years of age in September and it’s true that, so far, he hasn’t managed to play for an extremely competitive team in the Final Four, aside from Maccabi in 2012 and Olimpia in 2014. He was usually the first fiddle, he wants the ball in his hands and minutes on the court, but obviously, at his age these will be things he can get in Panathinaikos, seeing as in modern basketball there are so many games and such a heavy load on all the athletes.
We don’t have a very good picture of his season in China, we cannot know in what shape he was and is, but our last memory from Unics is extremely impressive.
The only thing that is certain is that we’re talking about a “killer,” a scorer who can find the way to the basket through shooting, driving, or a three-pointer. He earns fouls easily, he’s had good percentages in free throws (77.1%) and two-pointers (50.5% for a guard is extremely positive) throughout his career, and there is definitely the three-pointer in his arsenal. With Unics he scored almost two per game.
Besides, as a guard grows older – look at Spanoulis or Diamantidis – the option of long-range shooting seems more and more essential since their bodies cannot follow in speed, jumping ability and explosiveness in order to reach the layup as easily as they used to.